King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

Ace, August 2012         
Hardcover 978-1-937-00747-8
Book Two of The Broken Empire              
Review copy courtesy of author & publisher        

Prince Jorg Ancrath has set out what he planned to do at the beginning of Prince of Thorns: take the throne of his uncle. The manner in which he went about it included use of ancient weaponry long thought lost and dark magic that as of the sequel King of Thorns is still affecting him four years later.  Being King is more difficult than Jorg anticipated, an enormous army is at his doorstep and he’s about to marry a woman, or rather a girl, for whom he holds little affection. King of Thorns is told in a dual narrative on Jorg’s wedding day in the ‘present’ and four years earlier shortly after he took the throne.  Interspersed with Jorg’s own narrative are diary clippings from his aunt Katherine, for whom one might say Jorg has a bit of an obsession.

The narrative which is billed as “Four Years Earlier” follows Jorg on a quest across post-apocalyptic Europe and has a similar feel to Prince of Thorns in the travelogue sense. Jorg is humbled by the heroic Prince of Arrow, a man who could be either enemy or ally to Jorg in the Hundred War raging across the known lands. More sign posts and artifacts appear which give credence to the fact that Jorg and his story take place in a far future that has fallen into pseudo-medieval trappings. Continual references throughout the novel to “the Builders” reinforces the awe and wonder of what is likely the current civilization in which we live.

The present narrative is indicated by the chapter heading “Wedding Day” and here we see a wiser Jorg preparing, with a fair bit of anxiety and trepidation, for the day of his betrothal. Unfortunately, a massive army is mounting a siege and the more-mature Jorg who seems to have shaken control of two demons helpers from Prince of Thorns and absorbed the necromancy of a third helper, realizes what a challenge this army will present. Though his bride is much younger than him, she proves not to be innocent and without her own will as we and Jorg get to know her better.

Of course through both narrative strands Jorg reminisces about the past that made him who he is, how his father taught him that many things could be a sign of weakness, including one lesson that was quite the painful indicator of how Jorg came to be more like his father than he once hoped.

The journal pieces from Jorg’s aunt Katherine provide an outsider’s view into how sadistic and cruel Jorg can be, but Lawrence cleverly pulls away the shades of both Jorg’s overall story and how Katherine fits into the story.  A strand of the story in Katherine’s journal parallels very nicely with something Jorg comes to know as the novel nears the final third, a shift of that illuminates how a memory can be so different from two perspectives.

Lawrence’s crisp voice as Jorg is a welcome return after, though the slight nuances between Jorg four years after the events of Prince of Thorns and months after the events proves to be a more involved reading process.  Whereas Prince of Thorns was a novel I consumed in three days, the narrative pull here was not as magnetic, though at times, I found some of the passages more powerful and thought-provoking.  Jorg himself is more thoughtful, and more regretful of what he’s done to become king.

The exploration of a future that is so bleak, but wonderfully rendered continues to keep me interested in what happens next. Jorg’s ‘adventures’ and trials broaden in scope as does the world, he is becoming more well known throughout the world and the mingling of ancient technology and necromantic magicks is a difficult to resist element of the Lawrence’s ongoing story. 

The change in storytelling style slowed the pace compared to Prince of Thorns, and while I appreciated Lawrence’s ample skill at spinning the dual narrative, it slowed the pace a bit.  The immediacy of the “Wedding Day” narrative was palpable, the travelogue nature of the “Four Years Earlier” made those portions of the novel a bit more relaxed.  Both worked well for what Jorg the character and Lawrence the writer were trying to accomplish, but I found Prince of Thorns to be a slightly stronger novel. Of course, King of Thorns is still an excellent novel on its own merits and as a novel that builds upon the strengths of its predecessor.  King of Thorns is VERY good, more complex, perhaps more ambitious than Prince of Thorns, but lacking a certain something that stops it being a superb book. Still, I enjoyed it a great deal and f the finale, Emperor of Thorns can reach the same levels of excellence, craftsmanship, and imaginative storytelling as either of its predecessor, than I for one will be an extremely happy reader.

Highly Recommended

© 2012 Rob H. Bedford

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